Conflicts & War

Myanmar’s military junta cracks down on ‘voices of the revolution’

By Noel Caballero

Bangkok Desk, Jul 2 (EFE).- Poets, writers, film directors and actors are some of the “voices of the revolution” that Myanmar’s military junta has attempted to silence by sending them to prison and, in some cases, to the grave.

“The junta knows poets and writers have very powerful voices. When they talk, the people listen to them. Like when the actors talk, people follow them. These are powerful voices who fuel the revolution,” Myanmar’s Kenneth Wong, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, told EFE.

Myanmar, which was home to and inspired writers such as Britain’s George Orwell and Chile’s Pablo Neruda, still keeps alive the tradition of using prose to demand political and social change.

For this reason, verses began to spring up on social media moments after the military coup on Feb. 1 that suddenly ended the young and incipient democracy in the country and that was five months old on Thursday.

The world of culture was among the first to openly reject the coup and demand the restoration of freedoms that had been usurped by the military.

“Burmese people recognize and appreciate poetry as a channel to debate about injustice and revolution in a safe manner (…) They can use metaphors to avoid punishment and censorship,” said Wong, who also translates poems from Burmese to English.

To silence dissident voices, the military, who have shot to kill peaceful protesters, ordered the arrest of more than 100 writers and celebrities in the country.

According to PEN International, a worldwide association of writers, at least three poets have been killed by the military and more than 30 have been arrested in Myanmar since the coup.

Notable personalities held by the military include the actor Paing Takhon and director Ma Aeint, among several others.

Myanmar has lived under a succession of military dictatorships from 1962 to 2011, before a move towards a gradual restoration of democracy until the most recent coup.

Wong, who fled the country in 1989 following the then-military junta’s crackdown on the student revolution, along with director friends and other members of the Burmese diaspora in the United States, organized an online film festival between June 4-20 to reflect the ongoing struggle for democracy in Myanmar.

The charity project, which the academic deems “very successful,” screened 30 titles, including short films, features and documentaries, and held several discussion forums, with the aim of “addressing the root cause of Burma’s problems and the current situation.”

During this revolution, unlike previous ones in Myanmar’s history, has happened live “in front of our eyes” thanks to social media and the internet, the professor noted.

“When I was young and on the street during the 1988 demonstrations and we heard gunshots, we knew what was happening, but we did not know if the world knew what was happening. In 2007, during the Saffron Revolution, the videos were smuggled out through the border. But this time, every day I can see the demonstrations in the country in real-time.”

The festival screened the short film “Burma Spring 21,” made by anonymous Myanmar filmmakers during the first days of demonstrations against the military and which shows the determined opposition of the people from the ground.

New technologies have brought about a huge cultural shift in a country that remained virtually isolated from the outside world until the dissolution of the military junta in 2011, which brought Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to power, with her party sweeping the 2015 and 2020 elections.

A new generation of young people have grown up enjoying freedoms that were unthinkable until not long ago.

“Previous generations lived all the time under a military regime. We never had the opportunity to know what democracy meant,” said Wong.

“However, young people today have grown up with freedoms, even if they were limited, but they know what a full democracy means. They will not stop fighting to get them back.”

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